Space, Auditory: Endless Space Interview

By Adam Smith on July 19th, 2012 at 12:00 pm.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Endless Space pre-release and I’ve been dabbling and preparing to tell you wot I think of the launch version. In the meantime, I fired up my interstellar communicator and beamed some messages to the development team, specifically Mathieu Girard CEO of Amplitude Studios. Across the infinite void I fired these queries and across the infinite void, answers came. Peruse them below.

RPS: Hello! Before we talk about Endless Space, let’s talk about the time before space was endless. What are the team’s backgrounds?

Girard: The team is a mix of industry veterans (8 released games in my case) and talented younglings. We mix the experience of older ones with the fresh ideas of the youngest. Well actually even the olds ones have idea, and I count myself there. We have worked on different kinds of games : shooters, platformers, adventure/action, and of course strategy games. As you would guess for a video games studio, especially one which creates 4x games, the team is rather masculine. But I have hopes more girls will join our team in the future.

RPS: There are so many well-loved 4X games. What would you say Endless Space’s evolutionary path was? Are there are any in particular that loom large in personal memory and how do you hope to differentiate from the others?

Girard: Well of course Master of Orion and Civilization come to mind first, and we have wasted the better part of our life playing these games. I think Endless Space has created and brought a new and rich universe, which was quickly adopted by the fans. I think we can nurture this to develop it even more after the release. The GUI has also been acclaimed for its clarity and efficiency. I hope it can encourage other games to make even more accessible games, not at the expense of depth.

I also think that the game balance and progression is very cool: when you have spent 18 months working on a game, you are usually disgusted cant bare to look at it again. I have found myself still having loads of fun while playing the game “for real” even after its launch. The battle system is also a great achievement in my opinion. Although some players would have loved to have much more control on the battle itself, I think it is perfectly suited for our game dynamics. Still, we are looking into more options to please the whole audience.

RPS: And what about books? Are there are any authors or specific works that sit on your shelves, well-thumbed?

Girard: Tolkien, Asimov, Martin, Herbet, all come to mind. I really loved the David Brin “Uplift” series, and the fact that humans are just part of a bigger picture.

RPS: We have to talk about the user interface. I play games in which learning the interface is like learning a foreign language. Rewarding, sure, but quite time-consuming. Your UI is clean and efficient. How much work went into that?

Girard: Rome was not built in one day, and there is tremendous effort and talent behind our UI. First of all, we started the project with a simple mockup of the game screens, and you could play some basic stuff. This allowed to understand the stuff to display the basic flow, etc. The game designers then build more advanced version of the UI, in PowerPoint schematics, to make sure we have everything at hand.

Parallel to that, our external UI designer / usability expert works on the general look, designed the visuals for the screens and interfaces, defined the UI art direction, and worked on the accessibility flows. The UI was programmed, perfected, polished in several steps. We even have to reprogram a complete layer of GUI components on top of Unity, to make sure we could everything the way we wanted. Also our in-house Art Director had to produce something like 1,500 icons for all the various content, all following a consistent art direction. So about six different people (from all departments) were involved on the UI, with at least six months for most of them.

RPS: Do you think it might help to attract people who are put off by the steep learning curve of some strategy games, or do people still see star maps and run away?

Girard: I think we have attracted more people than games with harsher interfaces. But we can still improve this, without injuring the game depth, and will look into it for the future. I agree that the tutorial can be pretty boring for more casual gamers, but we are a small company and we preferred to spend more time on the core features which would please our core audience.

RPS: How much impact has Games2Gether, your system of receiving feedback and working on suggested features, had on the game’s development?

Girard: I would say it was very helpful, and will become even more. The game was already well advanced when we revealed ourselves, so we took no shame in communicating the game design documents to the whole community; they knew what the game was about, so they could propose to make it evolve in a direction consistent with our vision. Right now, all priorities for game evolution are directed by G2G choices, the users chose the priority. I also think that the G2G voting system is great for people who do not have the time to look at all forum posts (still, thanks to those who do!).

RPS: Are you ever surprised by the requests you receive? Like, you think it’d be best to work on adding a feature but people largely want something else entirely first?

Girard: We had some surprises, namely for the Pirate faction background: the most “classical” choice was selected by the community, but we respected that choice. As long as it is not going to kill or hurt the game, any suggestion is good, if it means a reasonable amount of work.

RPS: Differentiation in the factions seems to build from the ground-up, by which I mean they all have significant starting traits but less emerging variety through tech trees etc. Is that a fair assessment?

Girard: I am not sure which 4x games have vastly different tech trees for each faction, but I am not sure it is a good choice. The important thing in a such a game, in my opinion, is that the player can build a 300 turns strategy from the start of the game. If every faction is different, it seems difficult to adapt to the tech trees of other faction in an right players game.

Also how do you trade technologies to factions which cannot use them? Anyway, creating considerably different tech trees for each faction would be a huge amount of work, and I am not sure the end result would be cool. Still, the modding is coming, and I guess some fans will want to prove us wrong!

RPS: Have you found people gravitating to certain factions and any ideas on why?

Girard: I think there were lots of different opinions regarding the factions on the forum, which evolved as people discovered efficient ways to play them. The amoeba were first thought as OP, then it evolved and was seen as a refreshing new way of playing. And I think also that the faction editor is the new focus now in terms of tuning, as people can create all sorts of crazy stuff.

RPS: What’s your personal favourite?

Girard: I have a scientific background, so I would go with the Sophons!

RPS: One difficulty with the factions is that I can imagine people finding one that allows for a powerful strategy and sticking with it rather than exploring other ideas. Do you think it’s possible to balance that sort of thing?

Girard: It is our opinion (and supported by prominent community members) that any faction, played right, can crush all the other factions. Of course, if everyone plays his faction right in a game, then everything is balanced again.

RPS: I guess, going on from the last question, it becomes a broader question about this sort of game; are there tricks behind the scenes to make different sectors of space suitable or unsuitable for their inhabitants to promote balance?

Girard: Right now, there is nothing of that sort, although some early techs and abilities will help you jump start on some planet type.

RPS: I wrote about how much I enjoyed the flavour text and I do think, for a player like me, it’s hugely important to feel that everything has a place and a purpose beyond the bonuses and penalties it confers. How much writing is actually in the game?

Girard: Do you want line numbers or characters? Our writer did a terrific job at finding the right balance between useful texts while feeding bits and pieces on the universe with humor. The game only contains a fraction of the universe, and we hope to develop it even more in the future.

RPS: The most common complaint I’ve seen has been about the simplicity of combat. Do you have the same impression and are there any plans to make broad changes there?

Girard: Well, as I stated earlier, I think it was the right choice with the gameplay flow of Endless Space. Again, we are looking into options to give more control or information, and will get back to the community on the subject.

RPS: I also love the ‘cold war’ mechanic but what are the future plans for diplomacy?

Girard: Cold war is cool, because you can have quick fights at the start of the game, even if you have cold feet to declare war right away. There was a tremendous effort to improve the diplomacy between the alpha and release, and I think it paid off. Right now, it is still a bit early to determine what will change now. I know some fans have talked about espionage, but we have to balance it out with other features.

RPS: There are always quirks with AI in strategy games and they tend to fall, for me, into those that attempt to be good at the game and those that attempt to be unpredictable and ‘human’ in their choices. Where do you see Endless Space’s AI fitting?

Girard: Our objective is to have a game where an AI plays almost indifferently from a human player, and that is how we conceived our AI. There are still some glitches to find, but I think our AI is good enough to provide fun and challenge to most players. We wanted to avoid the super tricky AI which attacks from 16 directions at the same time, and eventually leads the player to believe that it is cheating.

RPS: Now that lots of people are playing, what’s the most surprising feedback you’ve had?

Girard: I am pleased to say that there were no nasty surprises. We agree with our fans most of the time, I suppose because they are avid 4X players as we are.

RPS: Which is your favourite of the following: Alien or Aliens?

Girard: Aliens.

RPS: AI or Prometheus?

Girard: Prometheus.

RPS: Star Wars or an actual science fiction film?

Girard: Star Wars.

RPS: Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica?

Girard: BSG.

RPS: The Muppets or Texas Chainsaw Massacre?

Girard: The Muppets and of course Pigs in Endless Space.

RPS: And finally, what does the future hold?

Girard: More Endless Space and more 4X.

RPS: Oh yeah, before I depart…did I mention how much I love the music? I really love the music. Where did that come from?

Girard: The music was created by our partner Game Audio Factory, and they did such a terrific job that we added 5 more tracks at release!

RPS: Thanks for your time.

I’ll share my final thoughts soon. In the meantime, you can read my preview of the beta.

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40 Comments »

  1. razgon says:

    Wat?? But you can? Just select costum faction?

  2. MiniMatt says:

    Have loved it so far. Agree the battle game doesn’t really work for me, find myself clicking auto resolve most of the time. Overall though a darn fine game with a commendable UI.

    • nizzie says:

      Auto-resolve is what I select, too, but I’d really like to choose the cards myself.

      I think the most annoying part of the combat in ES is that you have to endure the 3d sequences over and over again. It looks nice for the first few times, but eventually it gets really boring and time consuming.

      I think I could actually like the whole thing without it. Just a basic combat UI without having to load the 3d stuff, they should implement an option to just put it on top of the normal galaxy map – that’d be great.

    • dontnormally says:

      ““Auto-resolve is what I select, too, but I’d really like to choose the cards myself.”
      +1 as well.

      I also don’t like the timed nature of the battle system.
      It simultaneously takes too long and rushes me to make a decision.

      • cptgone says:

        “I also don’t like the timed nature of the battle system.
        It simultaneously takes too long and rushes me to make a decision”
        same here.

    • Askeladd says:

      It’s the only reason I stopped playing ES… I like space battles and I also like space economy.
      At the moment ES only has one of the two.
      /edit
      Oh, and I want to mention I find the research trees a bit uncreative.
      Mostly in the weapons section of the tree.

  3. adonf says:

    Adam, I think you forgot to introduce this Mr or Mrs Girard.

    edit: It’s fixed now.

  4. pakoito says:

    I would like another fantasy 4X with a some real depth. Or just a fantasy reskin for EE, where instead of building ships you equip your armies :p

  5. The Sombrero Kid says:

    keep thinking i’ll buy that, then realise it’s 20 quid, don’t really have that & don’t play the 4x genre enough to justify it

  6. lepidosteus says:

    > I am not sure which 4x games have vastly different tech trees for each faction, but I am not sure it is a good choice.

    Galactic Civilization 2 had awesome custom tech trees for each of the 12 (?) races with the Twilight of the Arnors extension, and had no problems with tech trading and brokering. It was actually even made better, since good diplomatic relations meant you could get access to technologies the tech tree alone couldn’t give you (and everybody likes a good +10% economics).

    As for Endless Space, I like it quite a lot but the combat is really boring and useless as-is after the first 4 or 5 times, I’m not sure if they should make it quicker, give more control or provide more feedback on what’s happening, but it feels lackluster compared to the rest of the game.

    • cptgone says:

      i agree that tech brokering in GalCiv was a lot of fun.
      and in MOO2, most races could only research 1 tech out of 3.

      stuff like that makes Research much more fun (and adds strategic depth)!

  7. cptgone says:

    i like Endless Space a lot, but there’s still room for improvement.
    - MOO2 had a wonderful variety of ship modules, that allowed for the creation of many kinds of ships (e.g., a ship with troop pods and either a tractor beam or extremely powerful engines).
    AFAIK all Endless Space has to offer are 3 weapons systems and their counters.
    - the tech tree descriptions need a re-write IMHO, to make ‘em informative enough to be of use (better still, allow the player to browse the techs involved)
    - i like the combat system, but still prefer MOO2′s (cause it allowed micro management for those who like that, and showed how each weapon system performed on the field)
    - the race design has been done well, but IMHO MOO2 somehow had more atmosphere (despite of it’s primitive character animation).
    - it doesn’t help that, AFAIK, the game doesn’t distinguish between an empire’s population and that of conquered (and possibly alien) worlds.
    i don’t mind the occasional streamlining but the omission of that feature hurts gameplay.

    • dE says:

      Agreed on the modules part, that’s the substance Issue I mention a post below. While you can tinker with some of the support modules there’s no real depth to it. It’s Rock, Paper, Scissors and nothing but that. I don’t agree on the tech tree, the color and shape coded icons make it pretty informative in my opinion.

      In a way the game does distinguish between different populations – but not in actual population. Instead it’s using a timer, amount of turns to invade and assimilate a planet. But yes, that’s one of the many places where a little bit more depth – if only in flavor and fluff – would go lengths.

  8. dE says:

    and eventually leads the player to believe that it is cheating.
    Which ironically it is on any difficulty but easy. And quite noticeable too.

    Nonetheless, Endless Space is a decent enough Appetizer. It’s great fun for the amount of money they ask for it. But don’t let people fool you, when they compare this to Master of Orion 2 (which I too did at one point). It’s close in gameplay but worlds apart in depth and atmosphere.
    Endless Space is all style with very little substance to it. It’s silly fun while you’re still peeling away all the Style it oozes and turns a bit disappointing once you get to the substance of it. By that point you’ve probably well played about 30 hours – good quantity and quality for money.

    • Sparkasaurusmex says:

      Sounds like Endless Space is to MoO as Warlock is to Civilization

      • cptgone says:

        ES is not the new MOO2, it’s a fun new TBS 4x game with strengths, weaknesses and design choices of its own.
        doesn’t really compare to Warlock vs. Civ, as those are conceptually different games that happen to look alike.

        besides, MOO2 was far from perfect (remember the tedious population management? the stacks of doom?)

    • Kong says:

      It may be a brilliant MP game. Did not play the official release, but beta kept me turning for 30+ hours too

  9. Rudel says:

    It’s a good game and definately worth 30 €. But after 3 playthroughs it really gets repetetive and boring, so I shelved it waiting for some improvements (and playing other games, damn you summer sale). It feels a bit shallow and it offers not enough variety for endless playthroughs like i.e Master of Orion 2.

  10. Sparkasaurusmex says:

    ” the most “classical” choice was selected by the community, but we respected that choice.”

    I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or not. Generally I think this is a good way to make a bland AAA title…. but perhaps if there is a balance of respecting the community and still pushing for something less ‘classical’ (read: cliche) it can work for my tastes.

  11. Lev Astov says:

    Ha! I knew it! They definitely roughly based a number of the races in Endless Space off of the Uplift series of books! I heartily approve and shall continue dominating as the Gubru.

  12. Myros says:

    To be honest I haven’t enjoyed ES much, it just feels so abstract and sterile. I never feel like I am actualy controling a space empire, more like moving stuff around a pretty spread-sheet.

    eg The planet screen with all planets in a system all neatly in line, ‘population’ – this planet has ’4′ and this one has ’2′ … and I can move them all between planets with a simple drag. Again, feels like Im moving numbers not billions of people.

    Add to that the combat as ‘watch this little movie’ which, as mentioned above, gets old pretty quick.

    Give me messy and chaotic … and fun anyday, that is the nature of the univerese after all :) Which is why I enjoy Distant Worlds far more I guess.

  13. occultrabbit says:

    While it is a great game in many ways, literally everyone, especially in the official forums, agrees it suffers from low replayability. Unlike GC2, most singleplayer matches are indistinguishable – you pretty much build and research same things in the same order. Also, shipbuilding and combat is basically limited to building a ship that instant-kills enemy ships, then refit when the enemy builds a ship that instant-kills yours.

    And now a dev says this is actually a good thing. That’s somewhat disappointing.

  14. MythArcana says:

    But…why’s the combat gone?!?!

  15. Erithtotl says:

    I feel like Endless Space doesn’t force you to make many choices. Because each step on the tech tree is significantly more expensive than the last one, making a beeline for a particular strategy is less effective than a more generalized research strat. The result seems to be a kind of blandness to empire development.

    the lack of significant upkeep on fleet also results in gigantic swarms of fleets, often many of them woefully obsolete.

    I feel like there is the making of a great game here but it needs a lot of work on how people go about playing it

  16. PodX140 says:

    I really enjoyed ES, and will probably keep coming back to it. Honestly, I find the combat system EVER so slightly slow, but I love the depth in the cards and choices that you can make. Against AI, it usually boils down to barrier, repair, repair, but I assume a human would learn very quickly and suddenly it’s a whole other game. I also find the “Rock paper scissors” style in weapons pretty good too, as when mixed in with defenses it becomes very interesting. Sure, you can get a ship that can be an amazing missile boat, but then it has no defences. And what happens if the enemy has all flak? What if you go a mix of all 6 but then you can’t stop a hard attack or hard defence?

    I found the tech tree very good as well, with the 4 different strains always having something you need, so it always felt like a trade (should I get my lasers now or go with moon exploration, or maybe boost my happiness or increase my trade routes, or increase my science so that it all can be gotten faster, but then I don’t have them NOW…).

    Diplomacy is also excellent, and I love how the AI really does take advantage of cold-war and WILL harass you to no end and even take your colonies if you’ve stretched too thin and can’t stop them. Alliances and peace really do mean alot, and I also found the friendship/suspicion system right on the money, leading to me having to give tribute to not have to fight another war on yet another front.

    Finally, late game becomes extremely refreshing as no longer are enemies tied to star lanes and suddenly your front line becomes just some ships to bypass.

    Oh, did I forget to mention CP and stacks of doom? And how brilliantly they’re handled? You can make a stack of doom, sure, but you can only attack with so many at once. So theoretically, you can stop an entire massive 200 CP invasion with just 15 CP, if your ships are advanced enough to stop it.

    Also the idea that early game ship designs are still valuable late game?

    Honestly, amazing game all around and I’d compare it to MOO2 as equal in quality, but there are key differences in design choices.

    • Kong says:

      what about the idea of CPs and no stacks of doom? Why not put a max on the number of fleets in one system at a time?

      • PodX140 says:

        but it doesn’t matter because you can only attack with so many at one time, and to re-arrange your fleets (apart from merge), you have to take a whole turn and be in your own system.

    • cptgone says:

      “I found the tech tree very good as well, with the 4 different strains always having something you need, so it always felt like a trade (should I get my lasers now or go with moon exploration,”
      in e.g. MOO2 even more so, as one could only research 1 item out of ech set of 3, leaving the other 2 unobtainable except by trade or force.

  17. dmastri says:

    Lacks the depth to be a compelling single player experience beyond 1 or 2 playthroughs, but it’s outstanding UI and streamlined gameplay make it perfect for multiplayer. It really feels less 4x and more like a board game. That’s not a bad thing.

  18. Kong says:

    Aliens and BSG. My kinda guy. I will play ES sometime again. See what has been done since then.

  19. red1939 says:

    There are two apparent flaws: lack of depth (especially in battles) and game-changing decisions that you have to make.

    To elaborate on the latter: almost all decisions that I make don’t seem to matter. I am not hard pressed to develop one or other tech. I will always develop ones that I know are efficient. When designing ships I always feel that going one way will provide me with good results. Cards are nifty, but failing to choose the right one won’t kill me.

  20. RegisteredUser says:

    Seriously people, it is starting to sound like nobody played MOO, as in the first one.
    If you really only ever played MOO2, do yourself a favour and also check out the original.

    From what I’ve read, it will at the very least whoop this Endless Space’s butt easy. :p

    The battles and lack of complete ship design are what is keeping me far, far away from trying it so far.
    That’s quite literally 2/3 of what these games were about for me.

    (Also the reason why GalCiv is a pointless series for me)

    Which reminds me that I wanted to check out Star Ruler.

  21. hari says:

    how do you colonize a new planet?

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